Last year at this time, we had half of our old house packed up—that type of packing where evidence that there was so much more left to do outweighed any of our frantic progress to get our house ready for the market. Kal was at the apex of a huge work project while I was at the top of my school blues and my anxiety at our next steps. But we had scheduled a trip to Seattle months before to visit one of my best friends and her family, so we swept up our little the tornado to Washington.
We were stressed out to the max despite the beauty around us. On the way to see a waterfall, for example, there was an odd tension between us, that type of marital tension you could slice open to see both our minds on other things, both our focus not matching up with the picture. I remember stress mixed with gratitude mixed with disappointment mixed with relief. It’s a strange combination that feels more and more normal as I hear and read stories of families around me. The snapshot of a moment is a gift since so much more of the hard stuff happens behind the scenes.
I choose not to focus on those parts when I explain the trip to myself or to the kids. I am a better, more appreciative person because of them, but I’m old enough to know the hard is just as part of the good as the good is.
Those hard-life tensions were there, and they were real, but we ended in a better place. Within a few days, the warmth of our hosts, the chance to connect our families together, the ability to show our kids something different let us settle into our vacation despite the inopportune timing.
D’s family and mine spent Thanksgiving together that year. I helped prepare the food while D, whose child got sick that morning, tended to her baby girl. Since we’d been there for several days prior, I had already adjusted to her kitchen. I opened up drawers to get the kids plates and knew where she kept the pan to warm up the stuffing. There was a small beauty in feeling so familiar. That alone was almost as beautiful as watching our kids make Pike’s Market their little playground. Somehow and eventually, we rallied and sat down to eat. She had the weight of guests and a sick daughter on her back while I brought to the table my own baggage. But eat we did; pictures we took; and gosh darn’t we had our irreplaceable memories.
A year later now and we’re at 2016’s Thanksgiving. My grandparents and favorite aunt are visiting. They’ve paused their lives to connect with us. The grit behind their visit is the stress I put on myself to get things just perfect. You know, that way you have in your mind you want it all to be before guests arrive. Also, I have always been awful at self-scrutiny in the face of my relatives, no matter how much we love each other. I judge my steps with a heavy hand on the inside even I may appear blithe and confident. My mantra has been to experience them, not stress myself out. But, alas, I’d be lying if I said, it hasn’t been hard that my kids bicker in endless loops 75% of the time and that my introverted side has been running on empty. I’ve been trying to connect to so many things that I worry that I’m neither on point here nor on point there. That’s all the real stuff.
The truth is that I love a clean house. I feel like I should do more about mostly everything all the time. But I am super grateful for the snapshots.
The snapshots of this time together include my aunt and me buying lotto tickets and cigarettes at 11 pm and us running inside off the porch because we heard weird breathing coming at us. It includes long, enlightening conversations that happened in the dark. It includes me baking at 2 am and listening to Sean Hayes. It includes my grandparents, hunched over with mischief, sneaking off to see the well on our property. It includes my friend dropping off homemade pie and joy to the kids during the day, and the kids playing with their friends at night. It includes my son transcribing a letter from my grandpa, who wishes “for a good year” to Santa.
It includes my head on my grandmother’s shoulder when she answered my question, “What would you change about your life if you had the chance to go back in time?” She replied without hesitation, “I’d bring my boy back to life.”
The snapshots also include Layla playing violin in front of the fireplace. It includes my mom handling life while her husband is out of the country. It includes a tiny Asian grandmother straying into my parent’s kitchen while we were cooking. She talked to us in Chinese (true story, I swear) until we recognized she didn’t know where she was but also wasn’t worried about it. The best snapshot of that would be when Kal asked her if she’d like to hold his hand as he walked her down the road back to her grandchildren’s’ house.She did.
The house is quiet again. A candle crackles behind me, and the house smells like pumpkin and vanilla. My most special aunt has her feet up near me, and a show is on that we both like to watch. A throw drapes over her, and I’m warm in my oversized, knitted cardigan. My hands, however, smell of Vicks since Zade keeps coughing. Every few sentences, I hear him cough, and I go from calm to nervous, back to calm again.
In the moments, we have the moments.